With a new Congress in session and the presidential transition only a few days away, Washington, D.C., has seen a flurry of activity over the past several weeks, with significant implications for the future of the Great Lakes and national environmental policy.
Trump Nominates Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator
President-elect Donald Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Pruitt’s skepticism of manmade climate change and other positions have left many to question how he will lead the federal agency charged with implementing and enforcing the nation’s environmental laws. Despite this, Bloomberg BNA reports that Republican leadership in the Senate expect Mr. Pruitt to be confirmed as EPA Administrator.
EPA Announces $1 Billion for Drinking Water, Wastewater Infrastructure
The EPA announced that it will make $1 billion in funding available through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program created in 2014. The funds will provide assistance for a range of projects aiming to improve wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. These include projects to rehabilitate or upgrade facilities for water treatment or distribution, to enhance energy efficiency at treatment facilities, to promote water recycling, and to prevent, reduce, or mitigate droughts. WIFIA, along with other programs such as State Revolving Funds, are a vital component of the $660 billion the EPA believes we need to invest in our drinking water, waste water, and storm water infrastructure over the next 20 years.
Trump to Submit Budget in May
Republican legislators claim that President-elect Trump will submit a federal budget request for fiscal year 2018 by May of this year, according to CQ Roll Call. While this is later than the statutory deadline of early February, a GOP aide believes that the President-elect will submit an outline for his budget for lawmakers to review by February. Historically, the president’s proposed budget is the first step in setting a federal budget. The U.S. Congress uses the proposed budget as a starting point for its work to fund the federal government, including Great Lakes restoration programs.
U.S. Rep. Huizenga Named to Great Lakes Task Force
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) has been elected to replace U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) as Republican Great Lakes Task Force Co-Chair, following Rep. Miller’s retirement. Rep. Huizenga joins U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) as Co-Chairs of the Task Force, which acts as a bi-partisan voice for Great Lakes issues in Congress. Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) has been named to the House Appropriations Committee, joining a number of Great Lakes members including Reps. David Joyce (R-Ohio), Kaptur, Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).
U.S. Reps. Joyce, Kaptur Urge Action on Harmful Algal Blooms
U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur and David Joyce are circulating a letter with House colleagues urging President-elect Trump to provide “robust funding in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for programs that address an increasing problem around the country: harmful algal blooms (HABs).” Reps. Kaptur and Joyce are urging their colleagues to join them by signing this letter.
Clean Water Rule Under Fire
Bloomberg BNA reports that Senate Republicans are taking aim at the a major Clean Water Act rule put forward by the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers that restores protections for waters that more than 117 million in the United States depend on for their drinking water. The clean water rule—known also as the Waters of the U.S rule (WOTUS)—defines the water bodies and wetlands that fall under EPA and Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction. The rule has been opposed by Republican lawmakers and business, agricultural, and manufacturing interests since its inception in 2015, and President-elect Donald Trump has specifically mentioned the rule as an example of an Obama-era regulation he will target. The rule is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and Republican lawmakers say they will wait for the court’s decision before deciding how they will approach the issue.
Clean Water Protections at Risk
Now in control of the Congress and the presidency, Republican lawmakers are preparing legislation to roll back President Obama’s environment and climate legacy, according to a report by CQ Roll Call. HR 21 would undo many of the environmental regulations issued by the executive branch in 2016, including policies aimed at protecting streams and wetlands from surface mining operations, reducing methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas sources, and incentivizing clean energy development on public lands. Meanwhile, HR 26 would require congressional approval before any new administrative regulations could be implemented. Democrats and environmental groups are criticizing these proposed laws, claiming they prevent Congress from adequately considering the benefits of environmental regulations while empowering lobbyists and special interest groups that seek to block environmental protections. Both pieces of legislation passed the House of Representatives last week, and are currently before the Senate.